Meet KU's Authors

This speaker series, a partnership with the Lawrence Public Library, provides audiences with an opportunity to hear KU authors talk informally about books they have recently published, taking us behind the curtain to explain why they embarked on these projects, what they found, and why their projects matter.

Upcoming Events in this Series:

Geoff Harkness
DVS Mindz: The Twenty-Year Saga of the Greatest Rap Group to Almost Make It Outta Kansas

THU NOV 2, 6:30 PM
Lawrence Public Library

Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of aspiring rappers never make it in the music industry. So why do we only hear the stories of the ones who do? DVS Mindz might be the greatest rap group you’ve never heard of. Formed in Topeka, Kansas, in the mid-1990s, they developed a reputation for ferocious rhyming and frenetic live performances. In their heyday, DVS Mindz released a critically acclaimed CD, received nominations for prestigious awards, and opened for legends such as Wu-Tang Clan, Run-DMC, and De La Soul as well as KC icon Tech N9ne. But the group struggled with creative differences, substance abuse, ego battles, and money issues, splitting up in 2003.

Geoff Harkness, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from KU, takes readers on a unique two-decade journey alongside the members of DVS Mindz, chronicling their childhoods, their brush with success, and what became of them in the years that followed. Based on more than one hundred hours of video and audio recordings from 1999 to 2022, this fly-on-the-wall account offers a backstage pass into recording studios and radio stations, video shoots and house parties, nightclubs and concert halls of the Kansas City-Lawrence-Topeka music scene circa 2000.

Previous events in this series:

Jennifer Raff
Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas

THU JAN 26, 2023, 6:30 PM

From anthropological geneticist Jennifer Raff comes the untold story—and fascinating mystery—of how humans migrated to the Americas. Origin is the story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dis­persed south, and how they lived, based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete ge­nomes. Origin provides an overview of these new histories throughout North and South America, and a glimpse into how the tools of genetics reveal details about human history and evolution.

20,000 years ago, people crossed a great land bridge from Siberia into Western Alaska and then dispersed southward into what is now called the Americas. Until we venture out to other worlds, this remains the last time our species has popu­lated an entirely new place, and this event has been a subject of deep fascination and controversy. No written records—and scant archaeological evi­dence—exist to tell us what happened or how it took place. Many different models have been pro­posed to explain how the Americas were peopled and what happened in the thousands of years that followed.

A study of both past and present, Origin explores how genetics is currently being used to construct narratives that profoundly impact Indigenous peo­ples of the Americas. It serves as a primer for anyone interested in how ge­netics has become entangled with identity in the way that society addresses the question “Who is indigenous?”

Randal Maurice Jelks
Letters to Martin: Meditations on Democracy in Black America

WED SEP 14, 2022, 6:30 PM

Letters to Martin contains twelve meditations on contemporary political struggles for our oxygen-deprived society. Evoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” these meditations, written in the form of letters to King, speak specifically to the many public issues we presently confront in the United States — economic inequality, freedom of assembly, police brutality, ongoing social class conflicts, and geopolitics.

Professor Randall Jelks invites readers to reflect on U.S. history by centering on questions of democracy that we must grapple with as a society. Hearkening to the era when James Baldwin, Dorothy Day, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Richard Wright used their writing to address the internal and external conflicts that the United States faced, this book is a contemporary revival of the literary tradition of meditative social analysis. These meditations on democracy provide spiritual oxygen to help readers endure the struggles of rebranding, rebuilding, and reforming our democratic institutions so that we can all breathe.

Rafael Acosta
Drug Lords, Cowboys, and Desperadoes: Violent Myths of the U.S.-Mexico Frontier

WED FEB 9, 2022, 6:30 PM

The drug battles, outlaw culture, and violence that permeate the U.S.-Mexico frontier serve as scenery and motivation for a wide swath of North American culture. In this innovative study, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Rafael Acosta Morales ties the pride that many communities felt for heroic tales of banditry and rebels to the darker repercussions of the violence inflicted by the representatives of the law or the state. Narratives on bandits, cowboys, and desperadoes promise redistribution, regeneration, and community, but they often bring about the very opposite of those goals. This paradox is at the heart of Acosta Morales’s book.

Drug Lords, Cowboys, and Desperadoes examines the relationship between affect, narrative, and violence surrounding three historical archetypes—social bandits (often associated with the drug trade), cowboys, and desperadoes—and how these narratives create affective loops that recreate violent structures in the Mexican American frontier. Acosta Morales analyzes narrative in literary, cinematic, and musical form, examining works by Américo Paredes, Luis G. Inclán, Clint Eastwood, Rolando Hinojosa, Yuri Herrera, and Cormac McCarthy. The book focuses on how narratives of Mexican social banditry become incorporated into the social order that bandits rose against and how representations of violence in the U.S. weaponize narratives of trauma in order to justify and expand the violence that cowboys commit. Finally, it explains the usage of universality under the law as a means of criminalizing minorities by reading the stories of Mexican American men who were turned into desperadoes by the criminal law system.

Andy Denning
Deep Play? Video Games and the Historical Imagination

TUE SEP 14, 6:30 PM

Video games earn billions of dollars in revenue, and many of the most popular and enduring games in recent years are set in historical environments. This genre of popular art and entertainment sheds light on the mindset of our era. In his recent article for the American Historical Review, historian Andrew Denning argues that the act of participating in history through virtual forums frames the public’s view of history. The article examines how recent video games that focus on Nazis shape public perceptions of the Third Reich. These games stage who and what matters in history, influencing our conception of how historical change occurs. Historical video games connect the past to present, shaping historical memory and contemporary political debates. Video games are a form of “deep play” that build knowledge of the past and present, but that knowledge must be broadened, Denning argues. Historians should understand how video games shape the wider public’s knowledge and philosophy of history, and they should develop strategies to bring the virtues of play into their own research and teaching.

Marni Kessler
Discomfort Food: The Culinary Imagination in Late Nineteenth-Century French Art

WED APR 28, 2021, 7:30 PM

At a time when chefs are celebrities and beautifully illustrated cookbooks, blogs, and Instagram posts make our mouths water, Marni Kessler (Professor of European Art at the University of Kansas) trains her inquisitive eye on the depictions of food in nineteenth-century French art. Arguing that disjointed senses of anxiety, nostalgia, and melancholy underlie the superficial abundance in works by Manet, Degas, and others, Kessler shows how, in their images, food presented a spectrum of pleasure and unease associated with modern life. Utilizing close analysis and deep archival research, Kessler discovers the complex narratives behind such beloved works as Manet’s Fish (Still Life) and Antoine Vollon’s Internet-famous Mound of Butter. Kessler brings to these works an expansive historical review, creating interpretations rich in nuance and theoretical implications. She also transforms the traditional paradigm for study of images of edible subjects, showing that simple categorization as still life is not sufficient.

Tony Bolden,
Groove Theory: The Blues Foundation of Funk

WED OCT 2, 2020, 7:30 PM

In Groove TheoryTony Bolden presents an innovative history of funk music focused on the performers, regarding them as intellectuals who fashioned a new aesthetic. Drawing on musicology, literary studies, performance studies, and African American intellectual history, Bolden explores what it means for music, or any cultural artifact, to be funky. Multitudes of African American musicians and dancers created aesthetic frameworks with artistic principles and cultural politics that proved transformative. Bolden approaches the study of funk and Black musicians by examining aesthetics, poetics, cultural history, and intellectual history. The study traces the concept of funk as it developed from early blues culture into a full-fledged artistic framework and became a named musical genre in the 1970s, presenting an alternative reading of the blues tradition.  social perspectives through multimedia expression. Bolden argues that on its road to cultural recognition, funk accentuated many of the qualities of Black expression that had been stigmatized throughout much of American history.

Susan K. Harris
Mark Twain, the World, and Me: "Following the Equator", Then and Now

WED OCT 2, 2020, 7:30 PM

In Mark Twain, the World, and Me: “Following the Equator,” Then and Now, Susan K. Harris follows Twain’s last lecture tour as he wound his way through the British Empire in 1895–1896. Deftly blending history, biography, literary criticism, reportage, and travel memoir, Harris gives readers a unique take on one of America’s most widely studied writers. Structured as a series of interlocking essays written in the first person, this engaging volume draws on Twain’s insights into the histories and cultures of Australia, India, and South Africa and weaves them into timely reflections on the legacies of those countries today. Harris offers meditations on what Twain’s travels mean for her as a scholar, a white woman, a Jewish American, a wife, and a mother. By treating topics as varied as colonial rule, the clash between indigenous and settler communities, racial and sexual “inbetweenness,” and species decimation, Harris reveals how the world we know grew out of the colonial world Twain encountered.

David Farber

WED SEP 23, 2020, 7:30 PM

A shattering account of the crack cocaine years from award-winning American historian David Farber, Crack tells the story of the young men who bet their lives on the rewards of selling 'rock' cocaine, the people who gave themselves over to the crack pipe, and the often-merciless authorities who incarcerated legions of African Americans caught in the crack cocaine underworld. Based on interviews, archival research, judicial records, underground videos, and prison memoirs, Crack explains why, in a de-industrializing America in which market forces ruled and entrepreneurial risk-taking was celebrated, the crack industry was a lucrative enterprise for the 'Horatio Alger boys' of their place and time. These young, predominately African American entrepreneurs were profit-sharing partners in a deviant, criminal form of economic globalization. Hip-Hop artists often celebrated their exploits but overwhelmingly, Americans - across racial lines - did not. Crack takes a hard look at the dark side of late twentieth-century capitalism.

Randal Fuller: The Book That Changed America
THUR, MAY 14, 6:00 PM

Randall Fuller is the Herman Melville Distinguished Professor of American Literature at the University of Kansas. Throughout its history, America has been torn by debates over ideals and beliefs.  Randall Fuller takes us to a turning point, in 1860, with the story of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species influence on American intellectuals, who seized on the book’s assertion of a common ancestry for all creatures as a powerful argument against slavery, one that helped provide scientific credibility to the cause of abolition.  Darwin’s depiction of constant struggle and endless competition described America on the brink of civil war. Creating a rich tableau of nineteenth-century American intellectual culture, as well as providing a fascinating biography of perhaps the single most important idea of that time, The Book That Changed America is also an account of issues and concerns still with us today, including racism and the enduring conflict between science and religion.

Laura Mielke
Provocative Eloquence

WED FEB 19, 2020, 7:00 PM

Laura Mielke is the Dean’s Professor of English at the University of Kansas, and her research focuses on the intersection of literature, politics, and performance in America before the 20th century. In her new book, Provocative Eloquence: Theater, Violence, and Antislavery Speech in the Antebellum United States, Mielke recounts how the theater, long an arena for heightened eloquence and physical contest, proved terribly relevant in the lead up to the Civil War. In the mid-19th century, rhetoric surrounding slavery was permeated by violence. Slavery’s defenders often used brute force to suppress opponents, and even those abolitionists dedicated to pacifism drew upon visions of widespread destruction. As anti-slavery speech and open conflict intertwined, the nation became a stage.

Richard Godbeer
World of Trouble

WED JAN 29, 2020, 7:00 PM

Richard Godbeer is the Director of the Hall Center for the Humanities and Charles W. Battey Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Kansas. In his latest book World of Trouble: A Philadelphia Quaker Family's Journey Through the American Revolution, Godbeer presents a richly layered and intimate account of the American Revolution as experienced by a Philadelphia Quaker couple, Elizabeth Drinker and the merchant Henry Drinker, who barely survived the unique perils that Quakers faced during that conflict. Spanning a half‑century before, during, and after the war, this gripping narrative illuminates the Revolution's darker side as patriots vilified, threatened, and in some cases killed pacifist Quakers as alleged enemies of the revolutionary cause. Amid chaos and danger, the Drinkers tried as best they could to keep their family and faith intact. Through one couple's story, Godbeer opens a window on a uniquely turbulent period of American history, uncovers the domestic, social, and religious lives of Quakers in the late eighteenth century, and situates their experience in the context of transatlantic culture and trade. A master storyteller takes his readers on a moving journey they will never forget.